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Why Are Some Bonuses Predetermined?

Dancing Drums by Shuffle Master and WMS progressive pick
Written by Joshua

When I talk to players, one of the things that seems to come up a lot is the question of a predetermined outcome, such as a bonus. I sense frustration from many players when such a thing exists, which can be a bit confusing to me.

The reality is a game with predetermined bonuses don’t have a better or worse set out bonus outcomes than a game with a true pick – the math is just done in a different way to balance out the range of outcomes.

But if slot designers can accomplish the same thing with a true pick bonus or free spins, why do predetermined outcomes at all?

There’s actually good reasons for doing this, and in today’s post we’ll cover the reasons why.

To Ensure Games Don’t Drag

Let’s take the scenario of the jackpot picks on games like Dancing Drums or 88 Fortunes (an image of which is at the top of this article). There’s 12 coins, and matching three of any coin wins the progressive. But as many players know, this is a predetermined pick, and the picking will lead to whatever outcome was planned at the onset.

It’s obvious that it’s not a true pick, because with supposedly three of every coin, you would have an equal chance of winning the Mini and the Grand, and we know that’s not the case.

Rising Panda by Scientific Games jackpot progressives

Compare this to Rising Panda/Guardian, which is a true pick example of a progressive picking bonus. As you can see in the image above, you have to get more Grand symbols to win the Grand, vs. for the Mini – makes sense. And as you can see below, there’s a lot more Mini spaces than anything else, which helps steer things towards a more frequent Mini.

Rising Panda by Scientific Games major jackpot won

Compared to the Dancing Drums example, where the most you would have to pick is 9 coins, you could be led to pick up to 17 times on Rising Panda. And the Major is much smaller, probably because even with this setup, it’s a bit easier to win the Major vs. Dancing Drums.

Theoretically, the Grand could be won every time, if you pick the precise set of symbols that house it. In reality, the odds of winning the Grand on any given cycle aren’t great at all. The mathematical balance is achieved through the requirements to win a progressive, the distribution of symbols across the 32 options on screen, and ultimately the much easier scenario of unlocking the Mini.

Smokin' Hot Stuff Wicked Wheel by Everi progressive pick reveal

Now take a game series like Wicked Wheel, which features six progressives. Imagine the pick screen that would allow for a true pick scenario without it being predetermined. The reality is that the predetermined format allows for a much faster outcome, and for additional excitement like the pitchforks removing the lowest progressives.

Even though the final stop on the journey is known, the design of the journey makes it exciting and fun. And when you factor in what they’re doing with the new sequels, it can get even more exciting, but would be much more of a challenging slog through a picking screen if they had to make it true pick.

Because of How a Game’s Designed

Those who have read the site for awhile know there are games that fall outside the Vegas slot (Class III) format, such as Bingo, scratch-off style games (New York and Washington) and Historic Horse Racing games. If the final payout is determined in advance, the bonuses have no choice but to be predetermined, because they have to lead to a final outcome.

There’s also slot machines that are Vegas-style slots but use what’s called a prize first approach, meaning the RNG selects a prize, instead of where the reels stop (known as a reels first approach), and the game shows an outcome that matches the prize selected. Here, too, anything that is displayed has to match up with the prize that was selected, so that would include any bonuses that follow.

So sometimes, a bonus is predetermined because the game it appears on is itself determining outcomes in some way that forces a predetermined scenario.

As such, while many free spins bonuses are RNG-driven, those on games where the outcome is determined outside a reels first approach may very well be predetermined as well.

It Doesn’t Really Matter

Predetermined bonuses and RNG/true pick bonuses all fall back on various math models to determine the machine’s overall payout.

Whatever format is chosen doesn’t make a game more or less likely to pay; that comes down to the game’s overall design (where did they put the pays, how often a bonus triggers, etc.) and the payback percentage chosen by the casino you’re playing at. In fact, that latter category is going to have a lot more to do with how you do than anything else, especially in the long run.

So don’t put too much stress on your picking game, whether predetermined or a true pick, because the bonuses are built mathematically to balance out big and smaller wins in a distribution that ensures casinos have a long term win.

About the author


My name is Joshua, and I’m a slot enthusiast who works in tech as a marketer by day, and dabbles in casinos periodically during off-times. Know Your Slots will reflect my interests in understanding the various ways you can play slots, travel, casino promotions and how you can get the most out of your casino visits.

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